I was reading some information from Asthma Awareness last week and was shocked to see that more than 600,000 New Zealanders are affected by it. With winter coming up the cold and damp generally aggravates asthma sufferer symptoms and increases the chances of respiratory tract infections. So I thought it would be a good time to take a holistic view to supporting asthma sufferers.
The current drive to insulate houses is certainly going to help asthma sufferers. Dehumidifiers are great to remove excess moisture from the air and to prevent to formation of moulds, which have been positively linked with asthma. Areas that have attracted mould can be cleaned using tea tree, manuka or kanuka oil. This kills the mould and stops it coming back. You may also want to think about regular vacuuming to keep levels of dust mites down and take care with strongly perfumed washing powders and cleaning products.
Another tip I read is to keep a daily diary of things that have triggered asthma. For example food, environmental factors, what medication has been used etc, so you can identify patterns and understand what to avoid or what benefits.
Overeating can trigger asthma, as can low blood sugar. So eating smaller regular meals would be better. Cold foods can trigger attacks (e.g. iced drinks and ice cream), so these are probably best avoided in winter.
There is also a strong link between food allergies or intolerances and asthma. Common offenders are dairy products and even if you are not intolerant they are best kept to a minimum as they are mucous forming. Other common allergic foods are food additives (MSG, artificial colours, and flavours), seafood, nuts and soy.
This should still be encouraged, but care should be taken with those who have exercise induced asthma. Indoor exercise may be better than outside in the colder months. However, I have seen recommendations for wearing a loose scarf round the face when exercising outside to keep in the warm air. Also yoga, tai chi and Pilates that include relaxed breathing can be beneficial.
On the natural health front Vitamin C can help, being the primary antioxidant in the lungs, helping prevent inflammation and damage. Studies have shown that those with regular breathing issues have lower vitamin C levels in the lungs. Also in winter vitamin C is important for the immune system as it helps build any army of white blood cells to fight infection. Bioflavonoids, which are found in nature with vitamin C, are also antioxidant and anti inflammatory. Research has shown the flavoids rutin and quercetin help reduce histamine, which is the substance released in allergic reaction that causes inflammation.
Zinc is found in all the mucous secretions of the respiratory tract. It has an antimicrobial affect, which is important to avoid respiratory infections and is it also anti-inflammatory. There are studies showing lower levels of zinc, in asthma sufferers and one that found that patients with allergic asthma had significantly lower zinc levels than patients with other types of asthma.
Since 70% of the immunity stems from the digestive system, keeping this healthy is important. Probiotics can be beneficial in this area by supporting immune health and helping reduce inflammation and reaction to foods. There is also information that shows giving children, who are at high risk from inherited asthma probiotics, reduced incidence.
Herbs that can be useful with asthma are boswellia and ivy leaf. Boswellia has been proposed as a potential therapy for asthma and is a strong anti-inflammatory. Ivy leaf dilates the airways making it easier to breath, as well as liquefying mucous so it can be coughed up.
Finally there are the all important omega 3 oils that you can get from flax, fish or krill oil. Their anti-inflammatory actions make them important for this condition.
I have heard from a couple of my clients that they have benefitted from this breathing therapy, so I contacted Glenn White a local Buteyko practitioner to find out more about it. I asked the following questions.
So Glenn what is Buteyko?
Buteyko is a breathing method that people can use to retrain their breathing. Over breathing through the mouth is linked with many conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, stress and sleeping disorders such as sleep apnoea. The technique teaches us to breathe the way we are supposed to: breathing more slowly, with the diaphragm and through the nose. It is interesting when you pay attention to it how often you will find yourself sneaking a breath though the mouth.
How successful have these methods been?
There is now an overwhelming body of evidence to show that breathing techniques such as Buteyko should be an essential component in asthma control. There are now seven published studies published, in leading medical journals worldwide, demonstrating the effectiveness of Buteyko for asthma.
How long have you been working with people in Auckland?
I have taught over 4,500 since opening the clinic in 2001. The majority of our clients come via referrals from Doctors / health professional and by word of mouth, attesting to the success of the programme. My goal is to have Breathing retraining incorporated into general practice to reduce the burden of breathing disorders like asthma in New Zealand and worldwide.